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2012 NFL Grades, Week 12: AFC North race is all but over

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

The Steelers still control their destiny when it comes to the playoffs, with a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bengals in their pocket and a current grip on the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

One small problem: this team's not very good without Ben Roethlisberger and the different avenues to get in the postseason are quickly closing up. The AFC North is essentially done; Baltimore's three games up on both Pittsburgh and Cincy. The Ravens play the Steelers next week and a victory puts them four up with four to play. That's good night, Irene.

Which means, with the Colts holding tight at 7-4, the final playoff spot could end up being a battle between the Steelers and Bengals. Coincidentally, those two teams play on December 23!

It's quite possible Roethlisberger is back by then. If he's not, the Steelers are probably doomed anyway, so it might not matter. If he is, they have three games to tread water between now and then. Let's assume a loss to Baltimore in Week 13 and give the Steelers one of the Cowboys/Chargers games. So unless the Bengals, who are rolling right now, go 1-2 in their next three, it's possible that Roethlisberger's absence could cost the Steelers a playoff berth. It certainly cost them a win on Sunday.

TeamGradeAnalysis
Texans 34, Lions 31
BIt's hard not to be impressed with the Texans playing 10 quarters of football in five days and coming out 2-0. On the other hand, their defense looked pretty bad the last two games and they didn't have much of an answer against the Lions on Thursday. Their offense is starting to look even scarier than normal though as Andre Johnson continues to become a monster.
B-Tough loss for the Lions at home on Thanksgiving, especially when Jim Schwartz gifted the Texans a touchdown by not understanding NFL rules on challenging plays. But their defense did an OK job and Matthew Stafford looked like the 2011 version of himself. Monster games from both Ryan Broyles and Calvin Johnson.
Redskins 38, Cowboys 31
AWashington came out gangbusters and set the tone against Dallas, with Robert Griffin III heaving a trio of second-quarter touchdown passes. Dallas got back in this game because of some mistakes, but was it really out of hand early thanks to another monster game from RG3. The Skins are now tied with the Cowboys in the standings.
C-Dallas nearly made this a game with Tony Romo's impressive run down the stretch, but for the most part, they got dominated. A lot of that should fall on Rob Ryan's unit, that got torched badly at home on Thanksgiving. Dez Bryant's absolutely killed it over the last few weeks, but the Cowboys can't get any sort of run game going without DeMarco Murray and that's a major problem.
Patriots 42, Jets 19
AMercy. The Patriots just flat-out manhandled the Jets on Thanksgiving, scoring three second-quarter touchdowns in less than a minute of game time. They added three more in that quarter and this game was never close. Tom Brady was mostly outstanding, Steven Ridley ran the ball and the defense scored too. Just a total bloodbath from New England in this one.
FMy wife suggested a grade of "F" for the Jets, because it stands for "Fumble." And frankly it's hard to disagree with her. New York was a trainwreck, they got blown out on national television at home and made a slew of stupid mistakes that offered the Patriots a chance to turn this game into a blowout early. New England obliged.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Falcons 24, Buccaneers 23
B-The Falcons just refuse to stop winning close games, but it's hard to have a ton of faith in them coming up against a "hot" team in the playoffs. Julio Jones was incredibly impressive and they're starting to use Jacquizz Rodgers more, which is a smart thing. But the defense and some of Matt Ryan's decisions left a bit to be desired.
C+Tampa Bay very nearly solidified their stunning shot at the playoffs this year, but their porous pass defense continued to cost them. Josh Freeman can get very hot and very cold at times and late in the game was not a good time to get cold.
Bears 28, Vikings 10
C-Adrian Peterson had another strong day, but only got 18 carries because the Vikings were down early. Losing 25-3 at halftime isn't the recipe for being able to effectively run the ball. The bigger concern is their defense, which only generated a single sack on Jay Cutler; with the weak Bears offensive line, they have to do better. Is Christian Ponder definitely the future here?
B+Chicago wasn't perfect offensively, but Michael Bush scored twice and Jay Cutler made some incredibly impressive throws. He really might have the best arm in the NFL. Chicago's defense generated some turnovers and, even though they gave up over 100 yards to Adrian Peterson, did a good job of smothering the Vikings.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Bengals 34, Raiders 10
D-There's not a whole lot going right in Oakland these days: their blowout loss Sunday only added insult to the injury that is the Carson Palmer trade. Palmer did very little and wasn't nearly as good as Andy Dalton, which is awkward. The Raiders defense let BenJarvus Green-Ellis run for 129 yards on 19 carries. Yikes.
B+A very balanced day from Cincinnati: BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran well, as did Cedric Peerman. Andy Dalton wasn't great percentage-wise, but he threw three touchdowns. The defense smothered Carson Palmer (four sacks), forced him to fumble and picked him off. Pretty sweet payback for his departure.
Browns 20, Steelers 14
FSo ... Charlie Batch is not the answer. He went 20-for-34 and three picks against the Browns. Not that the running game, which produced 49 total yards and SIX FUMBLES, helped him a whole lot. This team simply needs Ben Roethlisberger back in the worst way.
BIt's unclear how the Browns managed just 20 points when the Steelers fumbled a whopping eight times. But a win is a win for Cleveland and even if it required a third-string quarterback to beat the Steelers, they'll take it. Pretty nice days for Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson against a tough Pittsburgh defense.
Jaguars 24, Titans 19
CTennessee's longshot hope of a playoff run took a huge hit, primarily because their defense couldn't do anything to slow down Chad Henne and the Jaguars wideouts. Jacksonville's defense is also bad, which is why it was surprising to see Jake Locker and Chris Johnson not really generate any significant offense for most of the game.
B+Two weeks into the Chad Henne experiment and things are pretty good ... unless you're Blaine Gabbert anyway. Henne utilized Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon and helped Jacksonville find just the second win of the season. The defense actually produced some turnovers, but nearly let Jake Locker and Co. steal a victory.
Dolphins 24, Seahawks 21
C-What a brutal loss for the Seahawks. They put themselves in position to win this game and then utterly collapsed late. Their defense can't allow a rookie quarterback with no weapons to march down the field for three scores in the fourth quarter, no matter what time zone they're playing in. Just another strong effort from Russell Wilson. Ho-hum. Stunning that Marshawn Lynch couldn't get going against a previously soft Dolphins rush defense.
C+This was a very impressive late effort from Miami, who looked dead at several different points. Great job by Ryan Tannehill to move the ball in the fourth quarter and an even better job by the defense to bottle up Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks rushing attack. Maybe they should fire up the sprinklers every single game when they get down to opponents.
Colts 20, Bills 13
C-C.J. Spiller as a feature back is working out well, but it took Buffalo too long to realize that. And it took them too long to get going on offense, as they managed just six points on two field goals in the first half. Mario Williams did have three sacks though, so that's nice.
BHuge, huge, huge win for Indianapolis' playoff chances: even if they're probably not a "true" 7-4 team, that's their record and it's all that matters right now. T.Y. Hilton continues to be an absolute impact rookie and the Colts defense took advantage of some shaky quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick to limit what Buffalo could do on offense.
Broncos 17, Chiefs 9
BPretty nice day for Knowshon Moreno, who rushed for 85 yards on 20 carries, even if Peyton Manning was sacked twice. But clearly Willis McGahee makes the Broncos offense more dynamic. I guess this is a nice day for the defense, which didn't allow a touchdown? The Chiefs don't exactly create a great litmus test.
DNo one fails to score touchdowns quite like the Kansas City Chiefs, who hasn't scored more than 20 points in a single game since September. Peyton Hillis attempting a pass on third down sums up this season almost too well.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Ravens 16, Chargers 13
C+What is the deal with the Ravens offense on the road? A superb game from Torrey Smith, who finished with seven catches for 144 yards. The defense did a good job of limiting Philip Rivers and then when they needed to, the Ravens managed to get the necessary yardage to set themselves up for an overtime squeaker.
C-Was this the final straw for the Norv Turner Era in San Diego? The Chargers did what they needed to in order to win this game, but gave up 28.5 yards to Ray Rice on a 4th-and-29. They got hosed by the refs, but you can't give up that much real estate. Just an unholy collapse for a team already on the brink of being finished.
49ers 31, Saints 21
AFirst of all: what a defensive performance. The 49ers were all over Drew Brees, sacking him five times and intercepting him twice, both of which were returned for touchdowns. Secondly, they did it on the road. And thirdly, hope you enjoyed your job while it lasted Alex Smith. This is Colin Kaepernick's show now and the NFL might should be a little bit worried.
C+When the other team gets 14 points off your turnovers, it's hard to win. The Saints had a real shot to make a move in the NFC playoff race and, mainly because they couldn't do much to stop the 49ers, fell short on Sunday.
Rams 31, Cardinals 17
B+Heck of a game for Janoris Jenkins, who returned two picks for scores. Even better game for Steven Jackson, who looked like his old self with some fresh legs later in the year. When you score 31 points and Sam Bradford only has to attempt 17 passes, things have gone exactly the way you want them to.
C-Ryan Lindley throwing 52 times (!) isn't going to be good for anyone, and it wasn't good for Arizona on Sunday. Lindley threw four picks and though Beanie Wells scored twice, the Cardinals weren't in this game after three quarters. The defense tried to provide opportunities, but mostly let Steven Jackson have his way.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Giants 38, Packers 10
FJosh Sitton probably put it best: the Giants kicked the Packers asses all the way around. Pete Prisco nailed it when he said Aaron Rodgers would get sacked five times, but he also got picked once and fumbled once as well. New York was all over him all game and the Packers didn't generate much offense outside of a 61-yard first quarter bomb to Jordy Nelson. Every time they got a chance to turn the momentum, Green Bay ended up messing it up somehow.
ABoth Andre Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw ran the ball well, though Brown broke his fibula during the game, Tom Coughlin announced. Eli Manning quieted any concerns about his touchdown-less streak and the Giants salvaged November, with a shot to put the NFC East away next week when they head to Washington. The Giants looked like the team Sunday that stormed the playoffs last year.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Panthers 30, Eagles 22
B+The game certainly didn't mean much in the standings but it was nice to see Cam Newton play like he did for most of his rookie season. By the time it was over, he had thrown two touchdowns and ran for two more. Meanwhile, the oft-maligned defense recovered two third-quarter fumbles and the kickoff coverage team recovered another late in the fourth.
D+Rookie quarterback Nick Foles wasn't asked to do much. Rookie running back Bryce Brown was -- and he delivered with 178 rushing yards and 2 TDs. Unfortunately, he also had two third-quarter fumbles. That, combined with another inconsistent defensive effort (not to mention a late fourth-quarter fumble by Brandin Boykin) led to Philly's eighth loss of the season.
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